When EU citizens go to the polls later this year for the European elections, they will exert a real influence on the Union’s future shape for the first time. Hence, it is useful to take a closer look at the only European institution that is elected through direct suffrage.Ever since its establishment in 1952, the European Parliament’s political role and importance have grown incessantly. Today, Parliament is not only one of the European Commission’s main consultative bodies, but is also endowed with several important powers, for example in the legislative process, budget definition and the supervision of other European institutions. The Treaty of Lisbon, which has concentrated and enhanced Parliament’s political role, has also contributed to its stronger presence in European politics.A number of analysts, who stygmatize low voter turnout and citizens’ lack of awareness regarding Parliament’s role in the European Union, argue that the European Parliament has no political legitimacy. But their opinions are in conflict with the impact that the Treaty of Lisbon has had on the role of the European Parliament. Legislative power – The “ordinary legislative procedure”, that has replaced the former “co-decision procedure”, grants Parliament remarkable legislative powers. Now Parliament has a say in more than 80 political domains, such as justice, internal affairs and agriculture, just to name a few. Although the European Commission still has the responsibility to submit legislative proposals, Parliament has the power to modify, adopt or reject them. This is an important change compared to the situation before the Treaty of Lisbon’s enforcement; and Parliament is also entitled to approve the admission of new member States into the European Union.Budgetary powers One of the biggest changes brought by the Treaty of Lisbon concerns the European Parliament’s budgetary powers. The Treaty abolished the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditures, which was formerly used to define the European Parliament’s role in this domain. In the past, Parliament had a say only on non-compulsory expenditures. Based on its new or revised responsibilities, the EU budget cannot be approved without Parliament’s consent. Parliament has already used its new powers when decisions were made regarding the 2014-2020 budget.Parliament and the Commission From the standpoint of European Union citizens, perhaps the most important change is the influence the European Parliament now has in designating the President of the European Commission. The new rules state that, when member States choose their candidates for this position, they must take the outcome of European elections into account. Candidates are later approved or rejected by the European Parliament. Practically, this means that EU citizens have a say in deciding who the next Commission Presidents will be, and will be exerting their influence on this process for the first time during the May elections. European elections and beyond The outcome of European elections, that are fast approaching, will have another major consequence, beyond the establishment of Parliament’s new political makeup. Voter turnout will reveal whether citizens are happy with its new role. Questions regarding Parliament’s political legitimacy will finally find an answer, but there is still a risk: if few people go to the polls, this might reawaken the old doubts.Jerzy Buzek, former President of the European Parliament, in his statement about the enforcement of the Treaty of Lisbon, remarked that Parliament is now endowed with “democratic and effective rules that are able to give answers to about 500 million people in 27 member States”. The European Parliament’s democratic character will essentially depend upon voters and their participation in the May 2014 elections.
Assembly powers increased but democratic legitimization is needed